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Customer Review

447 of 483 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A vampire novel second only to Stoker's, November 24, 2001
This review is from: I Am Legend (Paperback)
I am Legend is arguably the greatest short horror novel ever written, and its influence on the horror genre has been profound. Stephen King and many other of today's masters rank this book highly in their personal top ten lists of favorites. It is a short novel that can be read in one sitting; it is hard to put down, building in intensity from start to finish. Matheson creates an entirely new type of vampire fiction herein. Transcending the traditional vampire tale, he adds science fiction elements to produce a refreshing new interpretation of Stoker's legend. The most fascinating part of the story is the protagonist's (Richard Neville's) attempts to explain the legendary aspects of the vampire myth in scientific terms. His discovery of a bacterium, which he dubs vampiris, as the true source of vampirism struck me anew reading the novel again after the events of September 11, 2001. Although we only get pieces of the story regarding the outbreak of the vampiric plague, including a reference to bombings, it can easily be seen as the fruits of germ warfare. Neville even conjectures that the Black Death of the Middle Ages was caused by this same vampiris germ, and he extrapolates facts and ideas from that history in his attempts to understand why such defenses as garlic, crosses, and stakes driven into the heart actually are effective against the hordes of undead creatures menacing his own time. He studies academic texts and conducts experiments with the blood of these creatures, which is the means by which he identifies the bacterium. The essence of garlic has no effect on the germ when injected into a blood sample, which initially he is unable to explain, but he later is able to explain garlic's effectiveness. Less scientific tests lead him to conclude that crosses are only effective against "Christian" vampires; the cross has no meaning to for vampires who were once Jews and Moslems, but sacred symbols of those religions, such as the Torah and the Koran, do. All of these scientific tests and speculations are just fascinating.
Neville is essentially the last man on earth, and the loneliness of his situation is the central part of the story. Matheson is able to communicate Neville's emotional feelings vividly, making him very real. We gradually acquire the story of the deaths of Neville's wife and daughter, essentially experiencing the pain he goes through when these memories overcome him. We watch him drink himself into a stupor as each night finds him besieged in his fortified house, surrounded by vampires, including his old friend and neighbor, calling for him to come out. We watch him slowly lose his grip on sanity and come very close to giving up. Then, however, we watch him overcome his depression and courageously fight to live in the nightmare world he is trapped in. The scenes with the dog he finds are full of emotion and really gripped this reader. This is Neville's first contact with nonvampiric life, and his attempts to befriend and help the poor creature (at the same time finally finding a companion) touched me greatly and brought tears to my eyes. His eventual discovery of another human being like himself is also powerful and emotional, although to speak more about this aspect of the story is to risk giving something away to the future reader.
This is a story of one man overcoming all obstacles and fighting to defend his way of life and his very humanity. The novel deals with the human condition, the essential ingredient to effective horror writing. Neville struggles constantly with his doubts and fears, particularly as he commits acts that he would have condemned as barbarous in the time before the plague. His needs for companionship of any kind offer us a clear image of the inner soul of man. By the end of the story, he does indeed become legend, both in his world and in ours.
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Showing 1-10 of 25 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 14, 2007 5:18:44 AM PDT
Great description.

Posted on Jun 26, 2007 7:20:13 PM PDT
Troy Tigner says:
Thanks for telling everyone an important part of the story. Coming into this book with the thought of Neville being the "last person on Earth" now has no added effect to the suspense of the story since now we all know he is NOT the last person on Earth. Thanks Alot!

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 30, 2007 6:49:47 PM PDT
WolfMama says:
Well, duh, the book was published in 1954. He probably had no idea you hadn't ever heard of it.
If you insist on reading reviews you're gonna get spoilers.

Posted on Jul 17, 2007 11:20:35 PM PDT
I thought his name was Robert not Richard?

Posted on Sep 21, 2007 10:39:34 PM PDT
jodie jd says:
I too read this book as a kid and saw the Charlton Heston movie version and set the expectation for every post apocalyptic story ever since. Ruined me for life

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 25, 2007 5:41:14 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 25, 2007 5:41:52 AM PDT
I totally agree with WolfMama. I had never read this book and I'm sorry but the previews left little to be desired. However, after reading this review, I really want to not only see the movie, but read the book as well.

Posted on Nov 24, 2007 9:43:56 AM PST
Russell says:
I am a reader and would much rather read a story than watch it in movie form, especially an adaptation of a novel. And yet, I was very close to going out and watching the movie, I am Legend, as I was nearly seduced by the bits and pieces of the trailers that show, usually, just the really cool stuff.
And then I read this critique of the book.
I had no idea this was a vampire story...(my favorite kind of reading). I had no idea it was a classic and a well known story. I had no idea that Stephen King and other writers of this genre placed it among their top books of influence.
And so, thanks to this review by Daniel Jolley, or "darkgenius"...(indeed), I will buy the short novel today, now, and forego the movie.
Until it comes out on dvd that is, and after Ive read the book, which of course will undoubtedly renew my belief that reading the story is better than watching it on the screen.
Thanks Daniel darkgenius Jolley

Posted on Nov 26, 2007 6:42:24 AM PST
Sounds like an interesting book. I look forward to checking it out BEFORE seeing the new Will Smith movie.
Question - if the "vampires" feed on blood (ie. that's their fuel, their energy source), and Neville is the only food left around, then wouldn't the vampires starve to death? Since Neville's evaded them for months (years?), what have they been eating? Each other?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 11, 2007 6:28:45 AM PST
Jay Young says:
In the book, it's implied that the vampires do kill each other for blood.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2007 8:05:49 PM PST
You shouldn't reveal any parts of the story that will take away from the experience regardless of when it was written. What difference does that make.
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Review Details



Daniel Jolley

Location: Shelby, North Carolina USA

Top Reviewer Ranking: 928